Adventure Dinner founder Sas Stewart is known to wear many hats, with a few standouts: awarded distillery owner, successful entrepreneur, and expert on making spirits and mixing them. She previously owned Stonecutter Spirits, a Vermont gin and whiskey distillery sold to new ownership last year, and Highball Social, an ebullient craft cocktail bar in Burlington known for its idiosyncratic drink menu and buckets of chilled champagne. In March 2020, during the first upward curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, she also helped launch an organization called On The Fly, where a team of hospitality industry insiders and consumers helped local small businesses thrive through a broad scope of technical assistance projects -- efforts that were later facilitated by a landmark grant from the state of Vermont. In short, Stewart is a manifester of things, particularly the businesses she would like to see flourish in the food and drink world.

Adventure Dinner founder, Sas Stewart.
Photo by Chadwick Estey.

These days, that means growing a business of nomadic, speakeasy-style cocktail dinners throughout the state -- and showcasing a dynamic roster of Vermont chefs, makers and small-business owners in the meantime. Dozens of local businesses featured across past Adventure Dinners range from bookbinders and glass-blowers to bakers and floral designers.

Adventure Dinner began as a series of cocktail-centered pop-ups under Stonecutter Spirits. Past events highlighted a goat farm in Townshend, where a rugged hike through pasture led to wildflower cocktails and milk punch among the chomping herd; a Gatsby-inspired black tie gala in the warehouse of AO Glass in Burlington; a lamb roast on a 260-acre sustainable flower farm tucked in the belly of Bethel Mountain; and a cocktail-washed cruise across Lake Champlain to an island even Google can’t locate. 


“I had fallen more and more in love with hosting these events,” said Stewart over the phone in early spring.  “When we started winding down [Stonecutter Spirits], and eventually selling it, I could not let that idea go. Showcasing different Vermont makers in unique culinary and drink aspects was a thing I did not want to die.” Stewart sold the distillery in the fall of 2020 and kept ownership of Adventure Dinner, planning to spend the following year traveling nationally with an 80-foot dining table in the woods. She incorporated Adventure Dinner in February 2020, just on the heels of the Covid-19 pandemic. 



“All these plans for my big dining table in the woods were not going to happen,” said Stewart. But the pandemic forced her to further explore a crucial question: What made Adventure Dinner so special to others and to her?

Photo by Daniel Schechner

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“Adventure Dinner is really good at creating these one-of-a-kind experiences that center around food, drink and exploration,” she continues. “It’s the discovery of the new. It’s the discovery of delight.” Taking pleasure in food, drink and the tightly-knit community of Vermont small businesses could exist in the midst of a lockdown, Stewart realized -- for many, in fact, its persistence was vital.

“‘Safe joy’ was our guiding phrase of 2020,” Stewart added. “Covid-19 allowed us to focus on what our community needed, and how we were uniquely able to serve that. For us, that was providing safe spaces with opportunities to have joy in our lives right now.”

Photo by Kevin King

Adventure Dinner 2020 transformed into eleven different events starting in May. Initially, dinner kicked off outside at a socially distanced pick-up location adorned with whimsical accents -- vintage coolers filled with bottles of cold-brew chilling in a frosty river, for instance, or the bed of a classic Land Rover converted into a bar-top lined with flowers. Kits brimming with everything needed for a celebratory dinner were taken home and unpacked, and the 80-foot table transformed online into an intimate digital grid of Vermonters in quarantine. Some folks were in sweats or wearing buttoned pants for the first time in months; sometimes pets or babies crawled into view. Ice-breakers, games and hours of chatting (occasionally muted, by accident) ensued as guests unboxed carefully arranged packages of local food, accoutrement and batched cocktails, like local gin mixed with homemade rosemary syrup, white vermouth, bitters and bubbles. 

When the weather turned warmer and things became a little safer, Adventure Dinner began holding small, socially distanced events outside with staggered arrival times, touch-less pick-ups and a clear motto: “masks up until butts down.” La Playa, a mid-August dinner, featured a private beach on Lake Champlain dotted (spaciously) with paddle boards mounted and stuck into the sand for tables. The boards were laden with Zero Gravity Brewery growlers, cocktail pairings and four courses of open-fire cooking from chef Frank Pace of The Great Northern, a restaurant in Burlington. The first round of drinks was found in the lake -- truly in the lake -- as guests waded out to a table and benches fixed in the shallows.

“The La Playa dinner had one of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve ever seen,” Stewarts recalled.

Photo by Chadwick Estey

Photo by Chadwick Estey

The Thanksgiving 2020 dinner was another personal favorite, she added. “Thanksgiving isn’t normally an event I would ever host an Adventure Dinner for, but this year we couldn’t gather -- we couldn't see our families.” Many people were in households of ones, twos or fours, and did not want to cook the big meal with a bird and an elaborate roster of sides. Instead, with “safe joy” as the event’s main axis, Adventure Dinner guests arrived the day before Thanksgiving at Shelburne Orchards, a local apple orchard and brandy distillery south of Burlington. Pick-up times were staggered and Covid-19 questionnaires were answered. After a temperature check, diners bundled up for a torch-lit walk through meandering orchard pathways to a bonfire, where samples of brandy were set out alongside take-home boxes bursting with food, cocktails, local pies from the bakery Das ButterHaus, and anything needed for an elaborate dinner at home, down to the turkey napkins. (“I ate that turkey for a long time,” said Stewart.)

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Behind the curtain of these idyllic dinners are months of planning, days of work and the unpredictable moods of the elements. “Nature will always provide challenges when you host outdoor events,” Stewart continued. “Every event location is different, and we have to get a lot of gear to those locations. Sometimes we break down events in the dark. Last year, we had really severe weather one day and had to shift locations last minute -- luckily, our guests were wonderful about it. Day-of, we’ve already thought through most of the potential chaos, but there’s always something unexpected in nature -- and we love that. It’s an adventure.”

As tightly executed as Adventure Dinner is, nature acts as a reminder that these events aren’t scripted acts with rigid timelines. Instead, states Stewart, think of them as progressive cocktail parties. “This is about taking your time, exploring, and learning about all the other experts behind the scene that make these dinners happen,” added Stewart.


With Covid-19 vaccinations increasing and mud season making its way into milder weather, spring 2021 has become a harbinger of sorts for the future of Adventure Dinner. “We have more events planned in the next three months than in all of last year,” stated Stewart. With “safe joy” as a continuous focal point, Stewart is ready to help people emerge from a particular type of pandemic-era homeostasis. “I want to take the fear out of the new,” she continued. “I want to create a comfortable way to engage with our community again.”


Along with creating a newsletter to keep adventurers and food enthusiasts up-to-date on events, Adventure Dinner launched a series of new summer 2021 dates, including, in early May, a four-course tea party inspired by the popular 2020 streaming show Bridgerton. Set among the acres of gardens and woodlands at the Blueberry Hill Inn in Goshen, guests of “Adventure Dinner: Bridgerton Tea” found cocktail pairings for every dish, plus a guided forest walk with tips for foraging and identifying flowers. A tea-steeped first course -- pillowy bao with tea-smoked mushrooms -- was cooked and served over the campfire. Individual nettle tartlets came with a jade-hued juice mixed with gin, vermouth and yuzu. A third course inspired by the Queen was, appropriately, a luxurious parade of oyster trays covered in moss, platters of tea sandwiches and spring vegetable vol-au-vents, and an oolong-infused, whiskey-spiked sweet tea riff served in teapots. Seeded carrot and rhubarb cakes were paired with Port and eaten pond-side, and an overnight special with the inn let guests crash at a discounted price.

For many future events -- as is typical with dinners past -- it would not be unusual for people to show up in waterproof boots with their nice linen shirts. Lipstick and earrings might compliment heavy flannel or sunscreen and swimsuits. It’s Adventure Dinner, after all. The guests are game.